The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, September 2003

Last month’s reprieve in the spam volume was only temporary, as the ratio soared from 50 percent to 54 percent in September 2003, according to measurements from Brightmail’s Probe Network. At this rate, Gartner, Inc.’s forecast of 60 percent by mid-2004 is very realistic.

The categorization of spam for September 2003 is a mixed bag: while the percentage of all the different types of spam has stayed the same or declined slightly, Brightmail has had to add unwanted political messages into the measurement system.

Enrique Salem, president and CEO of Brightmail, found several contributing factors to the proliferation of political spam. Salem notes the opportunistic nature of spammers, who capitalize on current events to gain attention, and the California Governor Recall Election presents a chance to sell related merchandise. In fact, in August 2003 alone, Brightmail estimated that over 20 million messages related to the California Governor Recall Election spread into inboxes across the country, and the firm conservatively predicts that by the October 7 election date, over 100 million related spam messages will have been cast across the Internet.

Salem also revealed that Mary Carey, California Gubernatorial candidate and adult film actress, has been targeted by spammers who spoof [define] her email address and use it to send product-related enticements, further contributing to the barrage of unwanted messages.

Salem expects some decrease in political spam after the recall election, but his firm is prepared to deal with the onslaught of unwanted messages relating to the 2004 Presidential Election.


September 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam August September Change
Political NA 3% NA
Health 9% 8% -1
Other 16% 15% -1
Products 20% 19% -1
Adult 12% 12% 0
Financial 14% 14% 0
Internet 11% 11% 0
Leisure 7% 7% 0
Scams 10% 10% 0
Spiritual 1% 1% 0
Source: Brightmail’s Probe Network

An InformationWeek survey of 550 business technology professionals revealed that 58 percent wisely planned on spending 5 percent to 20 percent more on spam-fighting tools in 2003 than they did in 2002, while 39 percent said their budget would remain the same. Only a paltry 3 percent expected to spend less.

Filtering solutions will become increasingly important as enterprises become more reliant on email communication. A survey conducted by The Radicati Group, Inc. during the second quarter of 2003 indicated an 80 percent surge in corporate email communications since the same period in 2002.


Corporate User E-mail Stats, Q2 2003
Sent emails with attachments 6.5
Sent emails without attachments 22.9
Total sent per day 29.4
Received emails with attachments 13.1
Received emails without attachments 67.9
Total received per day 81
Total spam received per day 19.5
Source: The Radicati Group, Inc.

Compounding the annoyance of spam, are virus-spreading email messages. Steven Sundermeier, Vice President of Products and Services at Central Command, Inc. comments on the Worm/Sobig.F that tops the company’s “Dirty Dozen” list, bringing many computer systems to a halt: “Despite having a self-termination date of September 10th, 2003 that crippled its aggressive emailing spreading routine, the massive volume of infection reports prior to the de-activation date easily secured Worm/Sobig.F as the top spot.”

Making its way up the nuisance list is Worm/Gibe.C, which Sundermeier identified as a craftily disguised cumulative security patch from Microsoft. “The closely mirrored emails combined with the hot topic of patching vulnerable systems mislead users down the path of virus infection.”


September 2003 Dirty Dozen
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Sobig.F 67.5%
2. Worm/Gibe.C 8.6%
3. Nachi.A 3.9%
4. Worm/Dumaru.A 3.7%
5. Worm/Klez.E (including G) 3.0%
6. Worm/MiMail.A 2.9%
7. Worm/Lovsan.A 1.8%
8. Worm/BugBear.B 1.7%
9. Worm/Sobig.A 1.0%
10. Worm/Sircam.A 0.5%
11. W32/Funlove 0.5%
12. W32/Yaha.E 0.3%
Others 4.6%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for September 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented emails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.

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